Public C? Say it ain’t so

May 17, 2017 on 10:12 am | In analysis, breaking news | 2 Comments

This blog was dormant in 2016-17 as I focused on fatherhood and NBA broadcasting, but I did manage to keep standings and team-by-team schedules updated in a single Excel file made available online, so I was glad to have some part to play in the New Jersey hockey season and continue to maintain records going back at least 15 years.

I don’t know exactly what the future holds for this site or my involvement, but I thought I would put together a post on the biggest news in high school hockey right now:
The NJSIAA will be adding a third public-school tournament in 2017-18 on a one-year, trial basis.

I had heard rumblings that this might come up, but it all seemed to come together pretty suddenly. Most coaches I talked to didn’t even know about it. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but here’s the official paper trail:

March 22
The NJSIAA Ice Hockey Committee holds its postseason meeting. In addition to NJSIAA Assistant Director Jack DuBois, the committee consists of tournament director and Fair Lawn athletic director Cory Robinson, Shore Conference representative and Brick Memorial head coach Chip Bruce, Morris County representative and former Chatham head coach Harvey Cohen, athletic director representative and Morris Knolls athletic director Ken Mullen, CVC representative and Hightstown athletic director Jim Peto, and referee representatives Jack Lally (referee assignor) and Bob Triebe (state rules interpreter). These are hockey people, if not one that is super representative of state hockey coaches. On the agenda is a proposal to establish a third public group classification (Public C) as a one-year pilot program. It is approved 7-0. (NJSIAA minutes)

April 5
The NJSIAA Executive Committee holds its monthly, public meeting. Two major hockey issues are presented:

  1. The proposal to allow ice hockey co-ops to be formed by three schools, provided they do not roster more than 30 players, passes its first reading.
  2. The proposal to create a third public ice hockey group passes its first reading unanimously. The goal is to create three equal groups of 32-33 teams, more consistent with groupings in other sports, give “another school a championship opportunity,” and to eliminate “the out-bracket game.” (NJSIAA minutes)

April 6
The NJSIAA League & Conference Committee holds its monthly meeting, and Jack DuBois provides the update that the ice hockey committee is considering adding a third group and it was approved at the executive committee’s first reading. (NJSIAA minutes)

May 3
The NJSIAA Executive Committee holds its monthly, very public meeting, with most of it taken up by discussion of the competing proposals to revamp the NJSIAA football playoffs.

Without any discussion, the ice hockey proposal is approved:

So there you have it. Three public groups in 2017-18, and they will almost certainly be split evenly from the state’s public-school ice hockey programs, which currently number 97, although the proposal for Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley to merge could reduce that number to 96, and given the trend toward co-ops and now tri-ops, it could keep decreasing.

I have mixed feelings about this. I think in 5 years, it will seem completely normal to us, just like first having separate public/private tournaments and later splitting into Public A and Public B seem completely normal to us now. But I’m not so sure this is a good idea.

Every time I try to argue against the split, I find that the current fields thrown up in A / B / C are fairly reasonable. Schools with NJSIAA enrollment figures (3 years’ worth of students) of less than 1,000 are in their own group (Public C), while what we have thought of as the bigger schools are now split into two groups. I don’t find this necessary, but I don’t hate it. Morris Knolls and Randolph were coming perilously close to Public B, and that would just kind of defeat the purpose. So for right now, the split might make sense.

But look at the direction things are going. More and more programs are becoming co-ops, in many cases just to stay alive. Co-ops, as a merger of 2-3 schools, will naturally have larger enrollments. So Public A is going to get weaker and weaker as more of the slots are taken up by co-op programs. Pretty soon there will only be about 10 stand-alone programs in Public A, which will hand a state championship to Bridgewater, Hillsborough, Howell, Hunterdon Central, Toms River North, or Watchung Hills (all with enrollment figures of 1,600+).

Yet there is a good chance that there will be at least 31 public co-op programs in 2017-18. That’s roughly the same size the NJSIAA is targetting for each group with this new rule. So why not make co-op a separate category?

If we’re going to separate private and public schools because they’re not on a level playing field, this follows the same pattern. If a team pulls players from multiple schools, it should only compete for a championship against teams pulling players from multiple schools. (The counter-argument being that most co-ops would be broken up if they started competing for state championships, as co-ops are typically approved for schools which are struggling to field a team).

I ran the numbers, and if you split co-ops into their own group, the dividing line for enrollment figure would only go from 1,000 (between Public B/C) to 1,050 (between Public A/B). So it wouldn’t affect the bottom group that much. Last year’s tournaments would have had 26 teams in Public A, 22 in Public B, and 12 in Public Co-Op. Although there might have been a different scheduling and at-large considerations that would have brought Public Co-Op to 16 teams. It’s also possibel that private co-op teams could be allowed into the Public Co-Op tournament. Which would ruin the cool Public C moniker, but that’s OK!

Do I love that co-op programs will be able to say they were state champions and receive the same trophy as a typical, stand-alone program? Not really. Is it possible that adding a co-op state championship will encourage more schools to co-op unnecessarily? Very much so.

But I do think splitting co-ops into their own state tournament would be pro-active (anticipating more co-ops) rather than reactionary (our tournaments got too big, so let’s add another one!), and I do think it would put teams on an even playing field, both lessons I want to see in high school sports.

What do you think? Weigh in via the comments section!

By the way, there’s almost no chance it will happen that way in 2017-18. Here’s how I expect Public A / B / C to break down:

Of the 32 teams that would go into what I would expect to be a 32-team Public A group, 16 are co-ops (17 if the Wayne programs merge). Programs include Bridgewater-Raritan, Hunterdon Central, Hillsborough, Howell, Watchung Hills, Freehold Township, Southern Regional, Montclair, Robbinsville / Allentown, Sparta / Jefferson. 17 of the 32 made a state tournament last year.

The 32 teams that would make up Public B include 11 co-ops (12 if the Wayne programs merge and move up to Public A). We’re talking Ridge, Westfield, Livingston, Morris Knolls, Morristown, Montgomery, Randolph, Roxbury, both Middletown North and Middletown South, Jackson Memorial, Princeton, and probably Northern Highlands. 25 of the 32 made a state tournament last year.

The 33 teams that would make up Public C (32 if the Wayne programs merge) all have NJSIAA enrollment figures (3 years’ worth of students) of less than 1,000 and include only three co-ops. They include Brick Township, Chatham, Ramsey, Summit, Glen Rock, Hopewell Valley, Indian Hills, Kinnelon, Lakeland, Madison, Mahwah, Mendham, Rumson-Fair Haven, Wall. 18 of 33 made a state tournament last year.

2 Comments »

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  1. What about Point Borough and Manasquan/ Point Beach? Did I miss them?

    Kelly – The post was already too long, so I didn’t list every team. Manasquan / Point Beach co-op and Point Pleasant Borough stand-alone program would both be in Public C.

    Comment by Kelly McNamara — 17 May 2017 #

  2. I’ve been a fan of this site for a long time. I’m always surprised each year that you keep it updated and still do all of your other things in life. Thanks for that! I feel like you do. I don;t love breaking it apart because that is what we are use to but we’ll see how it goes this year. But if it doesn’t work or isn’t liked, will there be some rogue Public C champion in the record book to mark this failed experiment? That would be weird.

    Comment by Tim — 2 October 2017 #

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